Termination As A Breach of Contract

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Last year a parochial school fired a tenured teacher for ‘moral misconduct.’ At a fundraiser at a country club he had taken an unauthorized ride on a golf cart. The school’s handbook gave every teacher faced with termination the right to a hearing before a committee. In this case the committee heard the evidence and decided against dismissal. The president dismissed him anyway. The teacher appealed to civil court.

The court first held that it had the authority to pass judgment on this part of a religious institution’s affairs. By making termination part of the handbook, the court found the school had formed an everyday contract, free of religious views. Interpreting the contract, the court then held that by ignoring the committee’s decision the president had violated an implied promise to use in good faith and fair dealing. The court did not have to address the question of whether the teacher had met the standard of ‘moral misconduct.’

Since the court was deciding only whether the teacher had a cognizable case, the matter is still in litigation. But the result drives home the point that due process for teachers always includes following published procedures and policies.